Red deer have recently been introduced to the intensive domestic environment, where there are many social and physical constraints not experienced by wild deer. Aspects of the social environment likely to affect welfare include group size, density and composition. Physical aspects of the pasture environment which may influence welfare are shade, shelter, wallows and opportunities for ranging behaviour, while variables in the handling environment which are probably important are pen construction and lighting. Various methods have been employed to assess welfare in red deer. Studies of confined deer have indicated that they respond to aversive conditions at pasture by pacing along fencelines, and in the handling environment by nosing doors and walls. Preference testing has compared different handling environments and treatments, and demonstrated that human presence, novelty and mechanical restraint were aversive. Results from detailed studies of velvet antler removal suggest that improved methods of providing analgesia are possible. Research into modifying the basic character of farmed deer through genetic selection or intensive handling of deer calves has been instigated. Overall, high welfare standards in deer production systems are a realistic goal. There are no long-established traditions to adhere to, and a foundation of productive assessment techniques and results has been established.
Proceedings of the New Zealand Society of Animal Production, Volume 53, , 143-146, 1993
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